The end of the 'Politician'

archive photo of men, one wearing a diver's suit
The divers preparing to salvage cargo from hold number 5.
B/HAR/12/BoxN/3/1/3, S2006.00644, Harrison Line archive, copyright unknown, courtesy of Charente Ltd

In April 1941 the Salvage Association of London came to an arrangement with the British Iron and Steel Corporation (Salvage) Ltd of Glasgow to carry out a second salvage operation prior to the towing of the vessel to the ship breakers. They arrived to find the 'Polly' in a sorry state, everything movable had been looted. Examination by divers showed there was great rock under her engine room, and number 5 hold, the engine room and stoke hole were completely flooded with the water level rising and falling with the tide.

Their first job was to lighten the ship so divers salvaged the bales of cotton and cases of whisky. The strongroom believed to be holding the banknotes was also hidden between decks in the number 5 hold but when it was opened the money wasn't there. Boxes containing £360,000 in banknotes were later found hidden amongst the whisky cases. Why it was hidden there and not in the safe is not known.

In May the salvage vessel 'Assistance' lifted and forwarded more cargo to Glasgow. An attempt was made to re-float the 'Politician' on 20 September 1941, to tow her to Lochboisdale. The attempt failed and she came to rest on another rocky outcrop concealed in a sand bank and broke her back. Customs officers Gledhill and McColl estimated there was still 1,000 cases of whisky in hold number 5 so they obtained permission to dynamite the hold. This was carried out in October 1941, much to the dismay of the islanders, their emotions summed up by Angus John Campbell, who commented;

"Dynamiting whisky! You wouldn't think there'd be men in the world so crazy as that!"

Salvage attempts continued on and off until July 1944. The ship was broken into two halves, with the forward section towed to Glasgow for breaking up and the sunken after section left where she lay. Today the wreck of the 'SS Politician' still lies off the coast of Eriskay, hidden below the waterline now, her deck and cabins long since destroyed by the wild sea.

archive photo of a man in a diver's suit climbing down a ladder, watched by others on the dockside
A diver preparing to salvage cargo from hold number 5.
B/HAR/12/BoxN/3/1/3, S2006.0645, Harrison Line archive, copyright unknown, courtesy of Charente Ltd